Healthcare News & Insights

Managing healthcare receivables amid COVID-19 challenges

Drive down the street in any city or town, and you’ll see signs honoring healthcare heroes for their brave work fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. What you won’t see is the battle being waged behind the scenes at many hospitals against financial insolvency.

Hospital administrators are doing their best to keep the lights on amid sharp revenue decreases. As hospitals have reallocated resources to combat the pandemic, revenue-generating elective surgeries and in-person visits have dried up. It’s estimated that hospitals across the U.S. will lose $200 billion between March 1 and June 30.

To close the revenue gap, hospitals must maintain the highest standards in managing healthcare receivables. Here are the priorities healthcare leaders should focus on as they continue to adapt to the new normal.

Digitizing patient engagement

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, face-to-face encounters of all sorts have moved online. This makes digital communication and payment options, which are already the norm for some patients and providers, increasingly important. Other touchpoints including admissions, consent forms, and payment education can be moved online as well.

According to a recent InstaMed report, 87% of healthcare providers still rely on manual processes for accounts receivable operations. Meanwhile, 78% of providers are unable to collect a bill of more than $1,000 within a standard 30-day window. Email, text and online chat aren’t only more efficient means of communicating with patients, but they can also reduce days in A/R.

Many hospitals are wary of the compliance questions associated with texting, but it’s not difficult to obtain patients’ consent to text as required by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Compliance-focused digital communication platforms allow providers to communicate with patients in ways they prefer and in keeping with TCPA, HIPAA and other applicable laws.

Compliance with state orders

During this unprecedented time, some states have passed temporary policies that prevent or curtail certain collection practices. For instance, the State of New York has halted all collection of debt owed to the state itself, and Washington State is protecting federal stimulus checks from any sort of garnishment.

Cornerstone Support maintains an up-to-date tracker for those seeking guidance on state and local orders related to receivables management. Facilities and healthcare providers should make every effort to ensure their A/R teams and third-party RCM partners are keeping pace with changing requirements.

Adherence to internal policy

According to the Urban Institute, 68 million Americans saw debt turned over to collection agencies in 2019. The impact of the current crisis is far more widespread, with many small businesses devastated, millions of jobs lost, and lives turned upside down by anxiety and loss. In these circumstances, overly aggressive collection tactics could do serious harm to a health system brand’s reputation.

It’s crucial that your A/R agents and third-party collection teams understand and consistently adhere to your standards for communicating with patients during the pandemic. Be sure to review hardship policies, and talk with agents about the expected surge in patient requests for payment plans, suspension of interest, or a pause on existing payment arrangements. If you are a 501(r) nonprofit hospital, ensure your Financial Assistance Plan has been updated to address COVID-related medical expenses and includes questions designed to detect whether and to what extent a patient or guarantor has been impacted by COVID-19.

Focus on long-term financial health

Today, healthcare facilities have all the EHR-friendly tools they need to improve A/R efficiency and results. These are important gains that can help optimize the revenue cycle and offset the effects of declining revenue. Automation technologies can help A/R agents, whether they’re on site or remote, work more claims more effectively. On the self-pay front, digital communication and payment platforms can improve the patient experience and recovery rates while ensuring compliance with employer and government mandates.

Once we’re on the other side of this pandemic, hospitals already on the leading edge of claim follow-up and patient engagement will be in a much stronger position to meet patient needs, adapt to market trends and challenges, and accelerate growth.

Rozanne Andersen is CCO of Ontario Systems, a revenue cycle management (RCM) company that specializes in health care.


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